Preventing Lead Poisoning
Lead poisoning is caused by swallowing or breathing in lead. It is very dangerous, especially to children under 6 years old. It can cause permanent damage to a child’s brain, kidneys, and nervous system. Even small amounts of lead can cause serious learning and behavior problems. Your doctor will test your child for lead. Your child’s first test for lead poisoning is done between 9 and 12 months of age. After that, there is a test at every yearly check-up through age 4. A record of these screenings must be shown for your child to enter child care or kindergarten.
If your doctor thinks your child may be at high risk or if you live in a high-risk community, the screenings are done more often.
Avoid lead poisoning by finding the lead before your child does! Have your home tested for lead by a licensed inspector. If you rent, ask the owner for a copy of the lead inspection report. By law, the owner must tell you about any lead paint. If the home or apartment was built before 1978, call your local board of health and ask for someone to check for lead.
Children are most often poisoned by lead dust and lead paint in older homes. Lead dust can get on children’s hands and toys, which they put in their mouths. Children often eat, chew, or suck on lead painted surfaces such as window sills and door frames. Lead can also be found in:
- Dust and soil
- Drinking water
- Some cosmetics and hair dyes
- Some imported, non-glossy, vinyl mini-blinds
- Painted toys, furniture, and playground equipment made before 1978
- Contaminated clothing from a parent’s work or hobbies
- Some folk medicines
- Some antacid tablets
- Some art and craft supplies
- Some dishes and pottery
Tips to Remember
- Keep children away from peeling or chipping paint. Cover loose paint with contact paper or paneling. Do not use sand paper—it fills the air with lead dust.
- Wipe up paint chips and dusty areas with a wet mop or cloth and a cleaner called TSP. You can get TSP at most hardware stores. You can also use dishwasher machine detergent that has phosphates in it. Do not vacuum paint chips—the lead gets back into the air.
- Be careful when renovating. Lead dust stirred up during renovations is one of the major causes of lead poisoning.
- Run your tap water for several minutes until you feel it get cold. Use only cold water for cooking or preparing drinks.
- Wash your child’s hands and toys often.
- Feed your child a diet high in iron, calcium, and vitamin C— they help stop lead from being absorbed in the body.
- Lean meat
- Green leafy vegetables
- Cereals with added iron
- Milk and yogurt
- Vitamin C
- Fruit juices
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